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Hightstown Borough Employees Could Be Moving Out

The borough council is considering options for where borough employees, who currently conduct municipal business in the Public Works building, will be situated while Borough Hall is rebuilt

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the trailer sizes as indicated in the borough engineer's report. 

After working for more than a year out of the Hightstown Public Works building on Bank Street, Hightstown borough administrative personnel will have a new temporary home, thanks to recent concessions made by the borough’s insurance company.

During the Nov. 19 Hightstown Borough Council meeting, the council, as well as other borough employees, discussed possible options to house seven offices, as well as space for meetings, the borough’s computer server, and borough files, for a three-year period, which would be covered by the borough’s policy with Lexington Insurance Co.

Office space would be provided for the borough administrator, clerk, treasurer, plannin board secretary, construction official, tax accessor, tax collector, and water and sewage collector, as well as some of their support staff.

During the borough’s Nov. 5 meeting, Borough Engineer Carmela Roberts was asked to prepare possible options for temporary housing.

Roberts recommended during last Monday’s council meeting that the borough lease off-the-shelf, pre-manufactured trailers–one approx. 24’ by 60’ trailer that would hold four 10’-by-12’ offices, bathrooms, a small coffee area, and a large common area; one approx. 30’ by 60’ trailer, which would house six offices and similar areas; and an 8’ by 40’ storage trailer.

This would provide ample space for the borough’s current office needs, as well as provide a buffer in case of future spatial needs.

After comparing the pricing from two companies, Roberts recommended Pac-Van of Bordentown as the best company to rent from. Roberts also said, over a three-year period, the cost of leasing these units would be almost half that of purchasing.

Seven locations were considered for the placement of the trailers.

First among these was the current borough hall site on Main Street, but this was ruled out by Roberts due to projected reconstruction of the current Borough Hall. Roberts said there is not enough room in the upland portion of the site to allow for both temporary trailers and reconstruction.

Roberts also considered the Public Works site, but deemed this an innappopriate location, saying there is not enough room to fit the trailers and maintain use of the public works garage. Additionally, the garage is used for a variety of purposes, with big machinery going in and out on a regular basis, and Roberts does not deem the area safe for conducting municipal business.

Also considered but ruled out by Roberts is the Borough Water Department Property on Bank Street directly adjacent to the Public Works building. While there is a significant amount of open space by the Water Plant, the area is located within the 100-year Flood Zone.

“It’s very much so in the flood zone,”Roberts said.

Because of this, Roberts said it is unsafe to put the trailers in that area, as they will almost certainly be impacted by flooding. Roberts said she also considered the sewer plant location, but did not include it in her report, as she did not forsee the borough wanting to bring residents or employees there.

“Things are different down there now,” Roberts said, referencing foul odors that emanate from that area.

Roberts considered several other locations, however, that she recommended as viable options to the borough council.

Four lots sit behind the Ely House on Bank Street, with a portion of the lot located in the 100-year flood zone, another portion situated in the 500-year flood zone, and a third area completely outside a flood zone.

Roberst said enough of the property is “high and dry” and can fit trailers. A lease on the property would have to be negotiated with the property owner, John Wolfington, new water and sewage services would be required, connecting to borough utilities on Bank Street, and the parking lot would have to be repaved.

Currently housing the borough police is the Lucas Electric site on Mercer Street, which could offer the borough further housing with existing offices that require little modification. The building is currently separated into bathrooms, which may need to be updated to be handicap accessible, cubicles, and meeting rooms. Roberts said it is possible that the building could be moved into without any ronnovations.

Another option for the site is stationing trailers on the rear portion of the Lucas property where the police are located.

One possible issue with leasing the Lucas property, however, concerns its ownership. Currently foreclosed and owned by First Constitution Bank, the property would be leased at the bank’s discretion.

However, Roberts is unsure whether the bank would be willing to lease the property, since it is actively trying to sell the property.

Although, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, there is groundwater contamination on the site, namely ethylbenzine, toluene, and benzene, Roberts said there is no soil contamination.

JCP&L is responsible for the groundwater contamination, she said, and continues to work on remedying the site.

However, she does not believe there is any direct danger.

“The place is occupied, and that couldn’t be so if there was an immediate hazard to occupying those buildings,” Roberts said.

Roberts additionally looked at two vacant properties on Maxwell Avenue, adjacent to property owned by St. Anthony of Padua church.

Each property is about half an acre, located within the R3 Residential Zones, and are within a relatively central location to the borough, according to Roberts. One property is owned by Suburbun NJ Surplus, and the other by Dalal Development Corp.

Roberts said developing the properties might require stormwater management, as well as obtaining the go-ahead from a number of government entities.

Finally, Roberts discussed the Minute Maid property on Mercer Street, which provides the option of moving employees into the building.

A section of the existing warehouse building was being renovated for offices, and according to Roberts, the Minute Maid representative expressed interest in leasing the area to the borough.

The two-floor, 15,000 sq. ft. area would need renovations, which could be fitted out by the landlord, and the exterior would need to be accessible for parking and the public.

“The diamond in the rough with the Minute Maid property, that’s pretty interesting to know that’s there,” said Councilwoman Selena Bibens.

After discussing several of the options, the council directed Borough Administrator Mike Theokas to contact Wolfington in regards to the Ely House property, the property owners on Maxwell Avenue, St. Anthony of Padua Church regarding a large parking lot adjacent to the Maxwell Avenue properties, and First Constitution Bank about the Lucas property.

Roberts agreed to work with Police Director James Le Tellier to prepare a report that would include the police departments needs.

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Downtown Hightstown, Inc. November 28, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Minutes from August 23rd special meeting, Town Planner Tamara Lee regarding the connection between Borough Hall property and renovating the Mill: "The Planner advised that the plans for the Rug Mill have always depended somewhat heavily on the frontage on Main Street and for a long time there has been concern that the tax base here is not really balanced, with too much burden on residential; and the way to relieve that burden is to have more commercial. One suggestion that has been in the Master Plan has been to incorporate this property into development and extend the downtown business district up this way, up Main Street; and that would be valuable commercial property that would help to balance the tax burden...If you expand downtown, you’re going to have less of a burden on residential." "…That has always been seen as somewhat important because if you can get the kind of revenues you would get for retail then a developer is going to be more attracted to renovating the rest of the site." "So if the objective is still to balance the tax base, then using the piece of property for some sort of retail is going to be more beneficial, and using the Main Street portion of that property is also going to help the re-development of the rug mill."
Downtown Hightstown, Inc. November 28, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Also please see Patch article here: Hightstown Borough Council Passes Resolution Rebutting Planning Board’s Recommendations (http://eastwindsor.patch.com/articles/hightstown-borough-council-passes-resolution-rebutting-planning-board-s-recommendations) "The planning board is cited in the resolution as objecting to council’s plan to rebuild on the existing Borough Hall site primarily due to its location within the 100-year and 500-year flood limit. Additionally, the planning board indicated to council other factors, including the borough’s Master Plan and Redevelopment Plan as it pertains to the Rug Mill property, as well as the Master Plan goal to restore the historic character of the central downtown business district. According to the planning board, if the Borough Hall were restored to its present 1960s-era, modernist appearance, it would not be consistent with this goal." There have also been support of a move out of the flood prone area by the Greater Hightstown East Windsor Improvement Project (GHEWIP) and Downtown Hightstown, Inc.,two groups with active volunteers who have done a lot for the community and downtown area in particular.
clara November 28, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Funny how Rick Pratt singles me out to scold me for using a screen name but no other posting here. For whatever it matters, I'm not on council and have never sought elected office. I've attended a handful of council meetings but do read local newspapers. I don't think I have ever met Rick Pratt but have read coverage of his opinions while he was on council and while he was on the Historic Preservation Committee. Why single me out for criticism? Have I made any untrue assertions or claims? Maybe it's because I have questioned claims made by others, both former council members and those preferring to use screen names, that are dubious. I have not resorted to name-calling or insults. But as a private citizen I have expressed my opinions here and I vote, an exercise in two of my Constitutional rights. Sorry that offends you Rick. Don't worry, you don't know me, we've never met. I have too many caregiving responsibilities to attend many meetings but I do follow the decisions being made by elected and appointed officials and I will continue to raise questions.
Patched November 28, 2012 at 07:06 PM
That last article is the reason I asked because it says the resolution said: "The Borough engineer, Borough planner as well as architects consulted by the Council have all said that there are a variety of mitigation steps that can be taken to further ensure protection from and full accessibility in the event of another flood on the scale of that caused by Hurricane Irene;" From that it seems like the council listened when she said the area was flood prone and asked what could be done about it. It seems like alot of this is he said-she said stuff. One person quotes the planner and another article links to the master plan that says something different. Or the thing with emergency services should absolutely not be in a flood zone, except that the firehouse is ok where it is. Or yes, the Lucas property is polluted with chemicals, but they're not really dangerous. And the mill thing looks to be pure opinion. And one says that moving borough hall will help with taxes because it will help the mill get developed but another article quotes a report that says the mill will need a tax abatement. With all the different information going back and forth, I think Jersey Blue is right that people would be complaining no matter what the borough did.
Downtown Hightstown, Inc. November 28, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Of course there are steps that can be taken to mitigate any problem - shes an engineer, and gets paid to figure that out. She's doing what the Council tells her to do, that's her job. If she was charged with figuring out a way to build a 10' seawall around the entire lake, she could probably figure that out as well. Doesn't mean its the right thing to do though. If you have chance to remove your governmental and emergency services from a flood prone area, do it. Whether it be a move to Lucas or anywhere else, that has to be the main focus. There are other factors involved, sure, but the safety issue is paramount.
clara November 28, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Like Jersey Blues, Patched, B Bennett, I am not convinced that rebuilding on the present location -- given what I have read here and in two other news sources -- is bad for residents. In an ideal world, one where cost is not an issue, relocating to someplace entirely risk-free, flood-free, etc. would be great. In case you haven't noticed, we don't live in an ideal world and have to make the best of what we do have. I am growing more skeptical of the tactics used by those wishing to relocate too because the reasons keep shifting -- we should purchase Lucas (other properties were considered but taken off the table) because borough hall on main street is the reason the Mill hasn't been redeveloped; it's a safety issue; it will help develop the Rt 33 corridor; it will add bustling retail to the downtown; the experts all say Lucas is the best way to go (but what about the flood map experts? why question their competence but not "our" experts?); ad infinitum. Can we just get it done already? Maybe it's not a golden opportunity but rather another one of life's challenges to get past an adverse event and carry on.
Eugene E Sarafin November 28, 2012 at 08:06 PM
I vote for using eminent domain and seizing the Baptist Church as Borough Hall offices. The combination of a government operation along with a religious chamber would add a new dimension to this discussion on what and where Borough Hall should be. The property is tax exempt. The sacristy is ideal for council meetings plus it has a pulpit for meeting attendees to present their opinions during the public forum as well as Council members to preach from. The choir could be a Greek chorus of citizens who write comments in Patch. We could charge admission for the show and create a television series that would have higher ratings than Dancing with the Stars except the shows would be bi monthly. The first episode would be what God should the town citizens worship with divided council on the choice. Mayor Steve will have to break the tie.
Downtown Hightstown, Inc. November 28, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Clara - you just named 6 solid reasons why Borough Hall should be moved. And if you just want to "get it done", rebuilding an entirely new building on the existing site will take about another 3-4 years. I'd get used to this being a topic of discussion. But I do like Gene's idea. He can be the proverbial Angel of Death looming over the Council chamber ready to smite the wicked. The origins of the name Sarafin does mean "angel" in some language, I believe. Other than that
Occupy Hightstown November 28, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Another good candidate for eminent domain is The Peddie School -- plenty of space for all the borough departments and we could even move the library and fire department there, freeing up more commercial space downtown. We could even have our own senior center, teen center, daycare center and so much more. It's already tax-exempt so we won't be losing tax revenue and we could sell some of the houses or make them a perk for the mayor and council members. If we did that, I bet East Windsor would come begging to consolidate with us! It's a win win for everyone. Nothing there but the trust-fund brats of the one-percent so its also a fight for social justice.
Eugene E Sarafin November 28, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Wonderful idea if we are willing to eliminate the $20 million Peddie Budget that employs numerous Hightstown residents and service suppliers as well as the students who spend a half million dollars a year on local services such as food. My idea was sane and humorous as compared to this pathetic, tragic, destructive proposal made by a hero of the stupid. Worst yet the writer has no idea of the number of students on scholarship, over half, or the contribution a prestigious private school makes to,our community. Hightstown is known over the world as the home of the Peddie School. With the proposal fulfillment we would then be known as the home of the incredibly stupid
Eugene E Sarafin November 28, 2012 at 10:09 PM
The social justice we need is the writer, Occupy Hightstown, find a place in some other world where total ignorance is a way of life.
Hightstown Homeowner November 28, 2012 at 10:19 PM
In defense of Clara. I too refuse to use my real name on this site. In the past, I had written in to the WHH to express my views and had someone show up at my house to let me know that they disagree with me. That's something I'd prefer not happen again for matters of safety - something men can much more easily dismiss.
Occupy Hightstown November 28, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Seems like I found it in Hightstown as exemplified by the shrill buffoonish thugish blowhards like you. Fortunately I can cure my ignorance through education. You, on the other hand, will forever be a self-important bully condemned by your own inadequacies to an eternal pursuit of victims you know won't or can't fight back. Pathetic. Truly pathetic.
Dimitri Musing November 28, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Ryan - you hit the nail on the head when you said: "Yes, that is the (multi)million dollar question that we need answered in writing from the insurance company: Will you cover the cost of demolition of the existing municipal building, temporary housing for our employees, and reconstruction/retrofitting of a new building outside of the current flood-prone area location if the price does not exceed $3.7 million? " This is the only important question that needs to be answered. If the insurance company will only pay to rebuild Borough Hall in its original location then there is no choice, no matter where we would "rather" be- ie. end of discussion. However, if the insurance company is willing to provide the Borough of Hightstown with money to rebuild a new Borough Hall or rehab a building away from the current location and out of the flood zone then shouldn't we seriously consider that option? It doesn't have to be at Lucas, although in my personal opinion it makes sense given the fact that over 100K has already been invested in locating our police force there. If the insurance company is willing to negotiate a "buyout", the real and only pertinent question to me would be why do we even want to build a new Borough Hall at all?
Dimitri Musing November 28, 2012 at 10:56 PM
In my personal opinion, a Borough as small as ours has no business building a $3M plus building when we should be looking towards shared services and or consolidation! I still believe this is the only way we are going to get our taxes under control and ultimately raise our property values. With $3M in the bank I'm thinking that Hightstown becomes quite attractive for other Municipalities to do business with.
Lee Stults November 28, 2012 at 11:02 PM
I like to base my reasoning on my experience as an Architect. I believe the costs for re-building downtown will end up costing more than at Lucas when the DEP required parking and site access issues are met due to the flood zone. Code or not, it does not make sense to only raise the building above the flood plain and leave the parking and access roads/sidewalks at a lower elevation. I'm worried that the cost estimate prepared for the current site did not adequately address this portion of work. Was a site plan prepared that met DEP requirements for building in a floodzone? If the building itself is located along Main, the parking can only go in the rear, which happens to all be in the flood zone and is more extensive than just re-striping the existing asphalt.
Eugene E Sarafin November 29, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Unlike Occupy HIghtstown,, my name goes with what I write. The pathos is the inability of the victim of my response to do nothing but complain that their ignorance is being held up to ridicule and I am wrong for doing so since they can't defend themselves as victims of my vitriol since they have to hide who they are. So they attack me instead of my ideas to elevate their intellectual deficiencies in all matters.
clara November 29, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Good points, Dimitri Musing and made without insulting those who would disagree. Why not consider using a fraction of the insurance company coverage to buy, rather than lease, trailers or better, pre-fab units to house borough employees while raising the level of the property. Then do everything possible to consolidate with EW and eventually sell the newly mitigated property? I gain nothing from the borough remaining a separate entity but could see my property taxes lowered, home value increased, sewer/water rates lowered, and municipal services expanded by a consolidation with EW. I'm not a capital A architect, like Lee Stults, just another objective professional who recognizes there is increasingly less value for my local tax dollars. This discussion has gone on for about 6 months too long and the frantic, hysterical, angry rants and cloak and dagger "secret studies" and insider information and back room politicking make us all look like ignorant yokels. I finally looked at rob thibault's blog on this, published here weeks ago and providing links to source documents--facts, not opinions and guess what? Just 4 comments.
Lee Stults November 29, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Clara, my apologies for using a capital A in describing my job title. Chalk it up to both a passion for what I do and this forum which allows enthusiasm to go unchecked. For such a small town, we have a great deal of reasoned ideas. I hope in moving forward that discussions are civilized and all options are fully researched.
Eugene E Sarafin November 29, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Rob Thibault creates his facts based on preconceived criteria for the generation of those facts. There are no discussion to be had with the three council persons, Doran.Woods, and Thibault since they have already made up the facts that support their position of putting office trailers in a flood plain behind the Hysterical Society building on the property owned the Bank and Worthington. The price for the piece of land to house the trailers starts at $1.5 million according to my sources. Luckily we have three council persons and the Mayor with foresight and reasonableness that will end this saga of idiocy with a four to three vote to rent office space away from the flood plain. It was noticeable that the three did not comment using their own names and that most of the comments came from informed, enlightened former Borough Council persons. And the comments in fictitious names were as fictitious as their names and just as uninformed as they are which is the reason not to use their given names.
Robert Langdon November 29, 2012 at 05:02 PM
There are some of us who don't want change or will accept change so let us keep things as they are now and always have been. We need to restore the past so the future will be preserved no matter the consequences. Obviously there are only a few of us that want this preservation of the past but our minority views must be preserved along with oiur wishes and opinions. These are the facts that cannot be refuted, ridiculed or denied. We as a minority have our rights and opinion which must be honored no matter what the consequences the future may bring. It is the past that governs our future and not the future that governs our past. We need some rigid flexibility as well as flexible rigidity in deciding where we go from here.
Marcus Tullius November 29, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I hate the hostile tone of national politics and I'm saddened to see it seems to have poisoned the discussion of local issues as well. The stridency in the comments on three of the most recent articles about Hightstown borough hall and in the article itself in the case of a fourth goes beyond the pale. Why can't there be a simple difference of opinion on this issue? Do people commenting on here really think that labeling opponents as "idiots" "a nut case" "ignorant" a "disaster" or "bully" does anything to bolster their arguments? It seems like only Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Thibault, one in these comments and the other in an earlier blog, appear to fully understand how to have a rational discussion supported by references to sources. Mr. Rosenberg cites specific council minutes and news articles to support his view while Mr. Thibault provided links to specific reports and other sources. I applaud both of them for doing so. Compare their example to others here. There are allegations of filtered facts, created facts, unreleased reports, unnamed sources, ignored experts and so on but nothing to support them. This discussion is taking place on the internet! If you say the advice of experts were ignored, it's easy enough to cite an article or council minutes or another source. If you believe a fact is wrong or misstated, point us to the source supporting that belief. I see I am running out of characters. Please help bring civility back to public discourse.
clara November 29, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Well stated, I agree wholeheartedly!
Eugene E Sarafin November 29, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Marcus Tulius Cicero asks for a simple difference of opinion without comments that are strident is another fictitious commenter hiding under a roman orator's name. Cicero is telling us not to address or refute the comments by those with fictitious names and go along with fictitious facts presented by those who want to put the Borough facilities back in a flood plain. When Clarabel agrees with something I automatically suspect Clarabel wrote the comment to support Thibault's position. The claim for civility to public discourse would come if the commenters did not hide behind fictitious names and made up facts the same as the Romney campaign.
Eugene E Sarafin November 30, 2012 at 12:34 AM
After some thought about the Cicero comment appealing for civility and not use terms of endearment for comments obviously by nut cases, idiots, hero of the stupid, etc., one wonders how do you refute falsifications, ignorance, mindlessness, stupidity except by pointing out that there are council members and their supporters who are just the terms used. Those words are factual, specific, and from a valid source for such determination. In reading the orations Cicero in Latin, the terms used in the comments presented are mild compared to his comments about society. Google Cicero and read his quotes.
Marcus Tullius November 30, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Cuiusvis hominis est errare; nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare. Alas, quod erat demonstrandum
Eugene E Sarafin November 30, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Et tu Marcus Tullius Ciciero.
Hawkeye November 30, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Clara you should open your eyes and realize that the hard working residents of Hightstown have a passion to do the right thing. Our Boro Officials also need to recognize the effects of their short sightedness will bring to our "One Mile of Paradise." Everyone who has posted on this blog wants Our Town , Hightstown to be successful. Let's work this together to do the right thing. Flood Maps, Redevelopment of Properties and working with our professionals is Paramount. Lets not lose another chance to relocate and move on. Its not about personalities. Its about sustainability !
Hawkeye November 30, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Memo - I ask all of you here on this blog. Let's get involved, keep involved , talk to your neighbors , make time to attend the Council, Planning Board, Environmental. Parks and Recreation , Historical Society, Downtown Hightstown Meetings. Get off the couch and be heard. Facts speak volumes and the facts submitted on this blog are loud and clear.
Hawkeye December 01, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Sometimes they are Chris . You just need to ask about the Public Meetings Act.

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